Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tips for future volunteers

3 weeks left. Ahh! Can't believe I'll be leaving so soon.

Once the Fall 2013 volunteers leave, the Spring 2014 group will arrive in January. After them will follow the Fall 2014 group, and so on. Tons of teachers filter in and out every year; so why not do a blog post with a few pointers for them? Not that I am overly experienced in the matter of living here...I thought I'd just share some things I've learned.

1) You probably have been warned that Russians are very reserved, "cold", or mean-looking, especially in public; and they are prone to not do a lot of smiling. Hollywood especially depicts Russians as a tough, gruff, and mean. And while it is true that they are somewhat reserved in public, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't as "bad" as I thought it'd be.
2) You may not be used to the currency/exchange rate over here, and at first it can be very confusing trying to figure out much USD you're actually spending on an item. But with time you will get it down. Be conscious of the money you have, and try not to spend too much on things like eating out. Budget your money. Save it for things like vacation money, souvenirs, or purchasing tickets to the ballet.
3) Planning lessons and teaching can be somewhat stressful for the first few weeks. I was still feeling like I didn't have things "down" up to the first month. With time and practice, you will get the method down. You will learn what works best for your students, and how to teach more effectively. I strongly suggest being organized: make calendars for teaching, have things completed when they're due, get your supplies together for class on time, ect.
4) Talking about teaching...that, and planning lessons, may seem like it is taking up a lot of your time. Which it does. Once you get things down though, prep time will take less and less, and you'll have more free time. For us, during the week our free time consists of just hanging out, going on our laptops, reading, ect. Weekends are when we go out in the city to sight-see and explore new places.
5) The metro - so easy to figure out! When I first went on it the crowds, noises, and busyness of it all seemed crazy! Now it's just regular life, and I use it 6 times a week (not including when we go out on free time). Mornings are particularly busy at the metro and everyone seems to be in a race. It will be crowded, and you might feel like you're in a herd of animals, but you'll just have to get use to it! ;) The metro can be fun though, I promise.
6) In St Pete's, we have quite a few schools. My most difficult school is "Primary", at the Kindergarten. The kids can be pretty crazy sometimes. Keep a routine, be organized. If they are being naughty, or speaking Russian, use appropriate discipline (naughty chair, Russian chair, ect.) It definitely takes a lot of patience, for me at least, some days to get through your lesson. So just keep that in mind.
7) When you really "reach out" to the kids--talking, hugging, playing, ect.--that's when you're going to feel closer to them, and you'll enjoy teaching more.
8) In my group of 6 teachers, 3 of us ended up living with host families, and the other 3 live with our head teacher in an apartment. Be open to wherever you are placed to live.
9) Despite the lack of drinkable tap water, make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day! Your host family may have filtered water, bottled water, or a water filter/boiler...whatever they have, make sure you're drinking the amount you need. As far as brushing teeth, washing hands, and showering goes--I have just been using regular tap water.
10) Time goes by fast, and before you know it you'll be getting ready to go home. Get ready for the fastest 4 months of your life.
11)'re going to leave behind not only your family, but a lot of other things you're used to. Keep yourself distracted by fully immersing yourself into teaching; read books, watch tv shows; play games and watch movies with the other teachers; sight-see; and appreciate the place you are living!

Things that have been really useful to me here:
1) A wrist watch. I prefer to have a watch than to look at my phone to check the time. For me it's quicker to glance down, instead of having to dig my phone out of my pocket. My watch helps with making sure I'm on track with my lesson.
2) Comfortable shoes. I brought a variety of shoes over...flats, tennis shoes, sandals, boots. I wore my flats and sandals probably about once, and ever since I've been using my tennis shoes and boots on a day to day basis. You're going to do a lot of walking here, so comfort is key. Keep in mind as well that St Pete's can be a wet city (with rain and snow), so water-proof/warm shoes are great. (This all is my personal preference; some of the other girls in my group have worn flats and felt fine, so just do what will suit you best.)
3. A small tote bag or backpack. This is nice to have to carry your school supplies around.
4. My laptop. At my host family's house, they don't have wifi. So I keep my laptop at the head teachers apartment. I've enjoyed having it to keep in contact with family & friends, and be able to use it for hang-out time.
5. A waterproof jacket.
6. Leggings. Not only are they comfortable, but they are great for layering under jeans. Long johns are also useful (I'm wearing them today)!

There's so much more that I could write, but I'll leave it at that. :) If you have questions, feel free to ask! I got a lot of help from a past volunteer before my trip, so I'd like to help future volunteers if they need any tips!

Good luck and have fun,


  1. I missed this post, somehow!! Must have been the busyness of Thanksgiving and being gone all day today!

    What is a Russian chair that you mentioned for disciplining the kids when they are naughty?

  2. Dear Maegan: I do not know if you go back through the old blogs very often, but I wrote a message on the one before this blog. Love Grandma Rogers.